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Anti-bullying on YK stage: ‘Not everything has to be serious’

“All the scenarios, all the stories that we’ve put into this production – those will always stay with me.”

Makenna Genge, 13, appears on-stage on Tuesday night. Her message: stop bullying. Her medium: space opera.

The Bullying Games, so named with a nod to The Hunger Games, is set in the future – but the components are drawn from the real-life experiences of Yellowknife students.

Children acting in St Joseph School’s show have listened to interviews in which students recount their troubles with bullying. The stories told on stage are modelled on events that really took place.

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“There were a lot of things I heard about that I did not know even existed in this area,” says 13-year-old Lance Dizon.

“Like, one of the stories really shocked me that it actually happened here. I’ve heard it happen in so many other places but I didn’t think it would be here. It opened my eyes to what could go on behind closed doors.”

Genge adds: “I’ve learned so much more than about verbal abuse and all that stuff. I’ve learned what it can do but it’s not only that, it’s that you know how to spot it with this production. It points out things some people didn’t think were bullying, but can be taken the wrong way.

“Sitting through the interviews, seeing how much goes on behind the scenes of someone’s life and what causes it? It’s hard to forget. This production has changed my view on a lot of things.”

Related: Yellowknife’s teenage boys turn to yoga for self-control

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But will it change the views of its audience?

The point of the show, based on a concept first performed in Vancouver, is to get to the truth about bullying without letting people switch off.

The kids involved insist their act is entertaining enough to keep fellow students listening until they get the underlying message.

“It’s amusing and serious at the same time, I think everyone’s going to enjoy watching it,” says 12-year-old Ellie Taylor.

Raven Mutford, 11, says: “For some kids, if somebody’s lecturing them, they don’t want to listen. But for plays and musical stuff, they actually go because they want to, so they pay attention and they listen.”

“If you have two adults talking at you, kids can zone out,” adds 13-year-old Holly Knutson. “Compared to if there’s someone on-stage actually acting, kids take the message more seriously if it’s entertaining.”

Students and staff emphasize that the show will reach out beyond its cast to involve the whole audience – and whole school, from grades one to eight.

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The show has interactive elements and takes pains to stay relevant by focusing on the role social media plays. It’s also bilingual and will feature a documentary about its making.

Artist-in-residence Mandy Tulloch has facilitated and directed the project, which makes use of a Safe and Caring Schools grant.

“It involves every student,” says 12-year-old Kyle Rogers. “If it doesn’t involve you, you won’t pay attention, but it involves everyone so hopefully they’ll all listen.”

The school says The Bullying Games is “built from student experience for students, by students” and will demonstrate the importance of the arts in learning.

A document outlining the project continues: “It is authentic, meaningful and relevant to the lives of our students. In the end, students will have been engaged in conversation that leads to change.”

On Facebook: École St Joseph School

The show’s public performance and gala reception takes place from 7pm on Tuesday, June 9. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased from the school’s front office.

“You might be being bullied but you are not alone. There are multiple people in the world right now going through the same thing, and you can help each other out and create solutions,” says Makenna Ram, 13.

“Even though this is a very serious topic, not everything has to be made so serious,” concludes her fellow cast member, Makenna Genge.

“We’re kids right now. We can live like that and still be serious.”

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